Uta Frith

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Uta Frith
Uta Frith.jpg
Frith at the Royal Society, 2012
Born Uta Aurnhammer
(1941-05-25) 25 May 1941 (age 74)
Rockenhausen, Germany
Residence UK
Citizenship Germany
Institutions University College London (Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience)
Alma mater Universität des Saarlandes
University of London (Institute of Psychiatry)
Thesis Pattern detection in normal and autistic children (1968)
Doctoral students Simon Baron-Cohen
Tony Attwood
Margaret J. Snowling
Francesca Happé
Notable awards Fellow of the Royal Society
Fellow of the British Academy
Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences
Spouse Chris Frith
Children 2
Frith profile at Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
from the BBC programme The Life Scientific, 6 December 2011.[1]

Uta Frith, DBE (Hon), FRS, FBA, FMedSci (née Aurnhammer; born 25 May 1941) is a German developmental psychologist working at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London. She has pioneered much of the current research in autism[2][3][4][5][6] and dyslexia,[7][8] and has written several books on these issues.

Her book Autism: Explaining the Enigma[9][10] provides an introduction to the cognitive neuroscience of autism. Among the students she has mentored are Tony Attwood,[11] Margaret Snowling,[12] Simon Baron-Cohen[13] and Francesca Happé.[14]


She was born Uta Aurnhammer in Rockenhausen. She completed her undergraduate degree in experimental psychology at the Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken.[15] She trained in clinical psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London and went on to complete her Doctor of Philosophy, on pattern detection in normal and autistic children, in 1968.[16][17][18][19][20]

She was mentored, during her early career, by Neil O'Connor and Beate Hermelin and has described them as pioneers in the field of autism.[21]


Frith's research[22] initiated the current representation of a theory of mind deficit in autism. Her 1985 Cognition paper Does the autistic child have a 'theory of mind?[23] proposed that people with autism have specific difficulties understanding other people's beliefs and desires. This study was conducted with Alan M. Leslie and Simon Baron-Cohen.

She was one of the first to study Asperger's syndrome in the UK and her work has focused on reading development, spelling and dyslexia.[15][19]

She has also suggested that individuals with autism have 'weak central coherence', and are better than typical individuals at processing details but worse at integrating information from many different sources.[24] Frith was one of the first neuroscientists to recognise "autism as a condition of the brain rather than the result of cold parenting."[25]

She has been supported through her career by the Medical Research Council at University College London.[26] Frith is an active collaborator at the Interacting Minds Centre[27] at Aarhus University in Denmark. The goal of the centre is to provide a transdisciplinary platform upon which the many aspects of human interaction may be studied. The project is based in part on her paper, with Chris Frith, Interacting Minds - a Biological Basis.[28]

Supporting women in science[edit]

Frith has advocated for the advancement of women in science, in part by developing a support network called Science & Shopping[29] which she hopes will "encourage women to share ideas and information that are inspiring and fun".[30] She also co-founded the UCL Women network, "a grassroots networking and social organization for academic staff (postdocs and above) in STEM at UCL", in January 2013.[31]

In the media[edit]

In December 2012, Frith appeared as a guest on BBC Two's Dara Ó Briain's Science Club.[32] On 1 March 2013 she was the guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.[33]

From 31 March to 4 April 2014, to coincide with World Autism Awareness Day on 2 April, and she was the guest of Sarah Walker on BBC Radio 3's Essential Classics.[34] She featured in the documentary Living with Autism as part of the BBC's Horizon series which was transmitted on 1 April 2014.[35]

Frith has written on the visibility of women in science, by promoting an exhibition on female scientist portraits at The Royal Society in 2013.[36]

On 26 August 2015 Frith presented the BBC One programme Horizon entitled "OCD: A Monster in my Mind".[37]


Professor Frith is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow of the British Academy, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences, a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, an Honorary Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge and an Honorary Dame Commander of the British Empire,[38] she was President of the Experimental Psychology Society, 2006–07.

Personal life[edit]

Frith is married to Chris Frith, professor emeritus at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London. Their double portrait was painted by Emma Wesley.[39] Their children are computational biologist Martin Frith[40] and children's book editor Alex Frith.[41]

In 2009 Uta Frith and her husband jointly received the European Latsis Prize for their contribution to understanding the human mind and brain.[42] In 2014 they were awarded the Jean Nicod Prize[43] for their work on social cognition.


  1. ^ "Uta Frith". The Life Scientific. 6 December 2011. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Houston, R.A.; Frith, Uta (2000). Autism in history: the case of Hugh Blair of Borgue [c. 1708-1765]. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-631-22088-7. 
  3. ^ Gilles Trehin (2006). Urville. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 1-84310-419-9. 
  4. ^ Elisabeth Hill; Frith, Uta (2004). Autism, mind, and brain. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-852924-4. 
  5. ^ Frith, Uta (1991). Autism and Asperger syndrome. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-38608-X. 
  6. ^ Frith, Uta (2008). Autism: A Very Short Introduction: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-920756-9. 
  7. ^ Frith, Uta (1983). Cognitive Processes in Spelling. London, UK: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-268662-4. 
  8. ^ Frith, Uta; Sarah-Jayne Blakemore (2005). The learning brain: lessons for education. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-2401-6. 
  9. ^ Frith, Uta (2003). Autism: Explaining the Enigma. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-22901-9. 
  10. ^ "Book Reviews: Autism: Explaining the enigma By Uta Frith". British Journal of Developmental Psychology 21 (3): 465–468. 2003. doi:10.1348/026151003322277801. 
  11. ^ "Tony Attwood personal website". Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  12. ^ "Margaret Snowling St John's College profile". 
  13. ^ "Simon Baron-Cohen University of Cambridge staff profile". Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  14. ^ "Francesca Happé IOP staff profile". Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  15. ^ a b "Professor Uta Frith". Ucl.ac.uk. 25 May 1941. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  16. ^ Frith, Uta (1968). Pattern detection in normal and autistic children (PhD thesis). Institute of Psychiatry, London. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  17. ^ Frith, Uta (1970). "Studies in pattern detection in normal and autistic children. I. Immediate recall of auditory sequences". Journal of Abnormal Psychology 76 (3): 413–420. doi:10.1037/h0020133. PMID 5490707. 
  18. ^ Frith, U. (1970). "Studies in pattern detection in normal and autistic children". Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 10 (1): 120–135. doi:10.1016/0022-0965(70)90049-4. PMID 5459646. 
  19. ^ a b Bishop, D. V. M. (2008). "Forty years on: Uta Frith's contribution to research on autism and dyslexia, 1966–2006". The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 61 (1): 16–26. doi:10.1080/17470210701508665. PMC 2409181. PMID 18038335. 
  20. ^ Profile, ucl.ac.uk; accessed 10 June 2015.
  21. ^ "Looking back: My mentors Beate Hermelin and Neil O'Connor". Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  22. ^ List of publications from Microsoft Academic Search
  23. ^ Baron-Cohen, S.; Leslie, A.M.; Frith, U. (1985). "Does the autistic child have a "theory of mind"?". Cognition 21 (1): 37–46. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(85)90022-8. PMID 2934210. 
  24. ^ Happé, F.; Frith, U. (2006). "The Weak Coherence Account: Detail-focused Cognitive Style in Autism Spectrum Disorders". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 36 (1): 5–25. doi:10.1007/s10803-005-0039-0. PMID 16450045. 
  25. ^ Kate Kellaway (17 February 2013). "Uta Frith: 'The brain is not a pudding; it is an engine'". London, UK: Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  26. ^ "Spotlight on Uta Frith". 
  27. ^ "Interacting Minds". 
  28. ^ Frith, C.D.; Frith, U. (26 November 1999). "Interacting minds--a biological basis". Science 286 (5445): 1692–5. doi:10.1126/science.286.5445.1692. PMID 10576727. 
  29. ^ "Science and Shopping". 
  30. ^ Kylie Sturgess (28 October 2012). "#142 - On Women in Science and Wikipedia". http://tokenskeptic.org (Podcast). Token Skeptic. 
  31. ^ "UCL Women". Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  32. ^ "Professor Uta Frith on BBC2 Dara O Briain's Science Club". BBC. 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  33. ^ "Professor Uta Frith on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs". bps.org.uk. 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  34. ^ "BBC Radio 3 - Essential Classics, Monday - Sarah Walker with Uta Frith". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  35. ^ "Living with Autism". BBC. 2014. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  36. ^ Frith, Uta (1 July 2013). "Invisible women of science – now appearing at the Royal Society". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 June 2014. 
  37. ^ [1]
  38. ^ "Honorary DBE". Retrieved 19 July 2015. 
  39. ^ "Chris & Uta Frith by Emma Wesley 2008". 
  40. ^ "Martin Frith's home page". 
  41. ^ "Alex Frith @ Usborne". 
  42. ^ "Professors Chris and Uta Frith win European Latsis Prize". Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  43. ^ "2014 Jean Nicod Prize". Institut Nicod. 

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